Australian woman shot after Minn. cops heard loud sound
Minneapolis — An Australian woman who called 911 to report a possible assault was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer after the officers heard a loud sound near their squad car, according to information released Tuesday by Minnesota investigators.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Justine Damond, whose maiden name is Justine Ruszczyk, approached the driver’s side window of the squad car immediately after the driver had been startled by the sound. The officer in the passenger seat, Mohamed Noor, fired his weapon, hitting Damond through the open driver’s side window, the BCA said.
The BCA said its agents interviewed the officer who was driving the car, Officer Matthew Harrity, on Tuesday but Noor declined to be interviewed. The BCA said his attorney did not indicate when, or if, Noor would be interviewed.
Messages left with Noor’s attorney were not returned Tuesday.
Harrity and Noor are on paid administrative leave. Harrity has been with Minneapolis police for one year, and Noor has been with the department for nearly two.
Records from the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review show Noor has had three complaints against him. Two are pending, and the third was dismissed without discipline. Under state law, details of open cases and cases that result in no discipline are not released.
Noor was also sued earlier this year after a May 25 incident in which he and other officers took a woman to the hospital for an apparent mental health crisis. The lawsuit claims Noor and other officers violated the woman’s rights when they entered her home without permission and Noor grabbed her wrist and upper arm. The lawsuit, which is pending, said Noor relaxed his grip when the woman said she had a previous shoulder injury.
The information released Tuesday is the first narrative released by the BCA since Saturday night’s shooting. According to the preliminary investigation, Harrity and Noor responded to a 911 call from Damond about a possible assault near her home at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
Harrity was driving the squad car as the officers rode through an alley in search of a suspect with the squad lights off.
Harrity said he became startled by a loud sound near the cruiser, and immediately afterward, Damond approached the driver’s side window. Harrity told BCA agents that Noor fired.
No weapon was found at the scene. The officers did not turn on their body cameras until after the shooting, and authorities have said squad video did not capture the shooting.
Harrity told investigators the officers got out of the squad and gave Damond immediate medical attention.
Harrity said that he and Noor saw a man, estimated to be between 18 and 25, bicycling in the area before the shooting. That man stopped and watched as officers attended to Damond. BCA agents are asking that man, and any other potential witnesses, to come forward.
The police officer who shot Damond is a young Somali-American and father who felt called to work in law enforcement after getting a college degree in business.
Noor, 32, joined the police force two years ago and is among more Somalis hired in recent years as the department continues its efforts to diversify. To those in Minnesota’s Somali community, the largest in the United States, he was seen as a role model, and his hiring was celebrated.
“Among police, he was one of the good guys,” said Suud Olat, a refugee advocate and interpreter.
But now authorities are investigating Noor as to why he shot and killed 40-year-old Damond, a meditation teacher and bride-to-be.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in an interview Wednesday with Australia’s “Today” show, joined the chorus demanding answers about what happened.
“How can a woman out in the street in her pajamas seeking assistance from police be shot like that? It is a shocking killing,” Turnbull said.
Noor’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, released a statement Monday saying that Noor extends his condolences to the family and others affected by Damond’s death. The statement said Noor came to the U.S. at a young age and is thankful to have had many opportunities.
“He takes these events very seriously because, for him, being a police officer is a calling,” the statement said. “He joined the police force to serve the community and to protect the people he serves.”
The statement described Noor as “a caring person with a family he loves, and he empathizes with the loss others are experiencing.”
Plunkett did not reply to a request for an interview Tuesday.
Noor joined the police department in March 2015, and his assignment to a Minneapolis neighborhood was publicized by city leaders and the Somali community. Mayor Betsy Hodges recognized him in a Facebook post last year, noting that his arrival in the 5th Precinct was celebrated. Hodges posted pictures from a community event to welcome Noor. She called it “a wonderful sign of building trust . . .”
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